Sounds of the thunderous banging of huge taiko drums contrasted with the peaceful, almost hypnotic sound of the harp-like koto music in the Ragan Theatre Saturday night, Feb. 11, in front of a nearly sold out auditorium.
This conglomeration of culture, the third annual Japan Culture Night, focused on the intense gratitude of the Japanese people after the outpouring of support following last March’s earthquake and tsunami. The tradition-rich show put a spotlight on Japanese culture, with plenty of help from Utah and Salt Lake county organizations.
The advisor for the International Student Services Junko Watabe talked about the annual culture night tradition starting in 2009 with intentions going beyond showcasing Japanese culture.
“We wanted to share our culture,” Watabe said, “but at the same time we wanted to use that to contribute to something, you know, for a good cause.”
The first year’s financial efforts were used to support a Mongolian alumnus, Urangoo Baatarhuyag, who had leukemia and was having difficulty paying for treatment. The second annual Japanese celebration raised over $1000 for the Orem Family Support and Treatment Center and UVU’s Sub for Santa program.
This year, in light of the monumental disaster last year, students behind the event wanted to do something for the people who had been affected by the carnage in and around Sendai, as well as provide a channel for those affected to relay their appreciation and gratitude.
The evening event started out intentionally slow. As Watabe pointed out, the first half of the show, laden with tradition, was “kinda sad.” Highlighting the beginning of the night was a touching film, “Arigato,” illustrating the worldwide assistance Japan received in the wake of the 2011 disaster, and showing Japan’s gratitude for the generosity. The emotions stirred by the film could be seen in the moist eyes of the audience members.
One of the other acts in the first half that was particularly touching featured children from Minako Kurogi’s Bilingual Kids program. During this act, 34 kids, ranging from 2-11 years old, lined the front of the stage and sang a few songs, complete kid-friendly choreography.
After the intermission, the show picked up quite a bit of momentum. A brief karate demonstration performed by a group called Koushinkai was quickly followed by a BYU jazz group, Escape from Alcajazz. Their performance a traditional Japanese song, “Lupin the 3rd,” with a modern jazzy spin, got the crowd tapping their feet and occasionally clapping and whistling after improvisational solos throughout the song.
The taiko drum performance by the SLC Kenshin Taiko may not have been the main event, but it certainly was the loudest, commanding the attention of the audience. The lengthy performance, including about a dozen performers banging huge barrel-shaped taiko drums with sticks that looked a little like police batons, earned an accolade from the audience that matched the intensity of the drums.
To finish off the night, the BYU and UVU Japan Clubs worked together to demonstrate a Japanese folk dance, using hand-held percussion and voices to articulate the music. The students sported wide grins as they danced the “So-ran Bushi,” a dance traditionally used to celebrate the fishing traditions intertwined in Japanese culture.
The grins were contagious, it seemed. After the house lights came up, most of the audience members wore smiles of their own as they slowly left their seats, seemingly more interested in talking with others than leaving.
The International Student Council that is largely responsible for the conception and success of this annual event will continue to hold fundraising activities for their friends and loved ones affected by the disaster.
“We are not the victims,” Watabe said, “but somewhat we are all connected.”
Story and photos by Jeff Jacobsen – Online Content Manager